Conflicting, contradictory results in studies of alleged racism, voter suppression in election laws

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President Biden and other Democrats are pressing their case that red state election laws are the “new Jim Crow” and suppress the Black vote, but studies produce conflicting evidence that the laws reduce turnout or disproportionately impact minorities.

Some studies suggest that tighter election laws, such as voter ID requirements, have hurt minorities more than White voters, but others show the opposite.

A February 2019 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research examined the turnout in every election from 2008 through 2018 and found little difference between those that have strict ID requirements and those that do not.

“We find that the laws have no negative effect on registration or turnout, overall or for any group defined by race, gender, age, or party affiliation,” Enrico Cantoni at the University of Bologna and Vincent Pons at Harvard Business School wrote in the study.

“Most importantly, given the complaints of selective disenfranchisement, strict ID requirements do not decrease the participation of ethnic minorities relative to whites,” they said.

A 2014 study by the independent Government Accountability Office found mixed results when it examined how ID requirements affected voting in 10 states.

It found no significant impact on turnout in five of the states. Turnout increased in one. The number of voters decreased in four other states, but only by 1% to 4%.

Mr. Cantoni and Mr. Pons said photo ID or other requirements could make it more difficult for minorities to vote but get-out-the-vote efforts can overcome the obstacles.

In 2017, researchers at the University of California, San Diego, and Bucknell University found the exact opposite of the National Bureau of Economic Research study. They found that Black and Hispanic voters were less likely to vote in states with strong voter ID laws.

The conflicting studies give both sides ample room to level unproven charges while Republican-run states enact laws to prevent election fraud and Democrats decry the moves as voter suppression.

New York University’s left-leaning Brennan Center for Justice says 12 states have enacted laws it considers “restrictive.” One law takes up former President Donald Trump’s call to tighten ID requirements to vote by mail. This year, 389 bills have been introduced in 48 states that the center considers restrictive.

Democrats last month unsuccessfully tried to pass a bill in the Senate that would have imposed national voting rules and restricted states’ authority to require ID.

On Wednesday, the Democratic majority in the Senate Judiciary Committee will revive the issue with a separate bill that would restore the Justice Department’s purview of new election laws in states with histories of civil rights violations.

The bill, titled the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, would also make it easier for activists to go to court to block rules in other states.

“In a democracy, no right is more sacred than the right to vote. And yet, across the country, Republican-controlled state legislatures are conducting the most sweeping and coordinated attack on voting rights in generations, fueled by Donald Trump’s insidious Big Lie that the election was stolen,” Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said Tuesday.

The differing studies are also giving Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, ammunition to call the charges a big lie and say it is Democrats who are trying to manipulate elections for their gain.

“The President has claimed repeatedly that state-level debates over voting procedures are worse than Jim Crow or ‘Jim Crow on steroids.’ Nobody actually believes this. Nobody really thinks this current dispute comes anywhere near the horrific racist brutality of segregation,” he said in April.

Indeed, studies mentioned by Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee do not rise to the level of barring minorities from voting as did Jim Crow laws. A 1923 Texas law allowed the state Democratic Party to exclude Black voters from its primary elections.

Still, some studies suggest that stricter voting rules impose more of a burden on minorities than on White voters.

Under the new laws in Georgia, voters seeking an absentee ballot have to provide either their driver’s license number or state ID number. A voter without an ID number can include a photocopy of another form of identification such as a valid military or tribal ID. They can go to the county registrar with documents showing their address and data or birth to obtain a voting card.

According to a Brennan Center survey, more Black voters might have to take the additional steps to vote by mail. Nationally, 25% of voting-age Black Americans lacked a photo ID, compared with 8% of White Americans.

When The Atlanta Journal-Constitution compared the state’s voting rolls with those with driver’s licenses or state IDs, it found a much smaller number — 3.5% — who had neither form of ID. But more than half of them were Black, and the majority of those without IDs lived in large, Democratic-leaning counties.

Walter Jones, a spokesman for Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, rebuked claims that the new laws would suppress the Black vote.

“Since 97% of Georgia voters already have a driver’s license number on file and anyone who doesn’t can get a state ID for free, it’s clear the new voting law merely adds common-sense safeguards without creating a hurdle for anyone,” Mr. Jones said.

The research cited by Senate Democrats also contained contradictory findings.

The University of California and Bucknell University study found that voter ID laws have had “negligible” effects on Black voter turnout in general elections. But their turnout in primary elections was 4.6% lower in states that have strong ID laws versus those that do not. The Hispanic vote in general elections was 7.1% lower in strong ID states than in other states and 5.3% lower in primary elections. White voter turnout was about the same regardless of their state ID laws.

“We find that strict voter identification laws substantially alter the makeup of who votes and ultimately skew democracy in favor of whites and those on the political right,” the researchers wrote.

Democrats also pointed to a 2017 University of Wisconsin study in which more Blacks than Whites cited the state’s voter ID law when skipping the 2016 elections.

The researchers were unsure about the reason for the disparity.

“It could be that more minorities do not have the requisite ID, that the costs of obtaining an ID are too high for minorities to bear, that passing these laws sends a signal to minorities that they are not wanted at the ballot box or some combination of the above. We simply do not know. And we need to know,” they wrote.

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